Saturday, June 30, 2001

Kashi of the Himalayas
Manoj Jreat

OVERLOOKING the Sutlej valley in the lesser-known Seraj region of Kulu district, and about 150 km from Shimla and 17 km from Rampur, is the large Nirmand village. This village has been in existence since the early Vedic period, making it one of the oldest rural settlements in India. A number of ancient stone and wooden temples dating back to the 6th and the 7th centuries A.D. speak of Nirmandís religious and historical importance. For this reason it is often called the "Kashi of the Himalayas."

An intricately carved wooden pillar in Mahadev Temple
An intricately carved wooden pillar in Mahadev Temple

One of the ancient shrines in the village is dedicated to Goddess Ambika, the mother of Parshuram. Although the original structure has been altered, several old stone sculptures have been preserved in the temple complex. A unique feature of the temple is its roof, which is made of pure copper sheets. Another temple nearby, called Deccani Mahadev Temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Its lingam is believed to have been brought from Deccan, and hence the name. The temple is renowned for its intricately carved wooden doors and pillars that are probably the finest examples of woodcarving in the state. Nirmandís principal shrine, however, is the Parshuram temple complex, which is built in the traditional Pahari style with gabled slate roof and extensive use of wood and stone. The exterior wooden balconies and pillars are elaborately carved in folk style, depicting scenes from the Hindu mythology. The temple complex resembles a hill fortress, which encloses a small courtyard with the only entrance from the western side. The northern section of the temple is a double-storeyed structure, which houses the legendary bhandar (storehouse) that is believed to contain priceless artefacts of which little is known.


Relief work on the wooden balcony of the Parshuram temple
Relief work on the wooden balcony of the Parshuram temple

Nirmand is famous for its annual Buddi Divali fair, which falls a month after Divali and the Bhunda festival, celebrated once in 12 years. The village probably derives its name from nar-mund, a Sanskrit term for a manís head. In the earlier days, a man was sacrificed during the Bhunda festival in a unique rope-sliding ceremony. Nowhere else in India has this hoary tradition of human sacrifice (Purush Medh Bhunda Yajna) as mentioned in the Rig Veda and prescribed in the Yajur Veda, been preserved in its purity as in Nirmand and the surrounding areas. It is during the Bhunda celebrations that the Parshuram Bhandar is opened and the artistic wealth of the temple is displayed to the public. The prized objects include a copper plate dating to the 6th-7th century A.D. and the famous brass bust of Sujanu Devi, discovered during the 1919 Bhunda festival by a British officer called Schuttleworth. The inscription on the bust dates it to 1026 AD. Many stone sculptures dating back to the 6th-7th century have also been discovered from the bhandar. Two of them, a stone sculpture and a stone pillar, are displayed in the temple courtyard. All these objects serve as a reminder of the villageís remote past.

For centuries, Nirmand virtually served as a museum of the regionís art and architecture. In recent years, however, this ancient village has fallen prey to human greed and indifference. Several priceless artefacts, including the triple-faced silver mask of the presiding deity Parshuram, have been stolen from its temples. It is time Nirmand is declared a heritage village and efforts are made to restore and preserve its monuments.